The Ultimate Guide From Semalt For An SEO-Friendly URL Structure

Crafting the perfect URL for Google is another huddle you will have to defeat if you plan to improve your brand or publication. Today, there are too many URLs, which are just addresses to webpages. These webpages and the SEO professional in charge of them are yet to understand that URLs are structured for SEO. 

Sadly, other SEO elements such as title and headings are often treated as more important, but unknowingly, URLs can also be a powerful tool in achieving SEO success. Let's show you how we create SEO friendly URLs. 

Is it possible to use keywords in URLs for ranking?

Many times, this is the first question we get after introducing this topic. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to whether keywords in the URL helps in its ranking, and here is why:

2010: keywords in URL was approached like a user

Here is what we mean, Google's Matt Cutts in 2010, published a video discussing keywords in the pathname versus keywords in the file name. 

The pathname being:
And the multi-hyphen filename as: 
With this, Cutts recommends that we approach the problem from the point of view of what a user may prefer. He explains further that using the multi-hyphen filename users may perceive it as spammy. He then affirms that there is no algorithm for multi-hyphens which is responsible for penalizing webpages with multiple hyphens. With that being said, the primary disadvantage of this method boils down to how it is seen by the user.  

Cutts, in his video, implies that there is a user impact effect in one of his statements. He explains that as far as the search engine (Google's) ranking is concerned, there is no great difference between the two URL structure models. He goes further and suggests that we should be more careful because the user experience begins to suffer when we have a long file name that is stuffed with hyphens. Generally, people do not like seeing dash, dash, dash, dash, dash, dash, dash; they may choose not even to click such links. 

Nevertheless, we hardly learned anything new on the ranking factor aspect of the URL structure. This could be deliberate as he wanted to focus solely on the user experience part because he felt it was more important than any other ranking factor-related benefit. 

2011: is having keywords in domains a ranking factor?

In 2011, there was another video that many SEO experts appreciated as it somewhat shed some light about keywords in domains. Matt, in this video, stated that Google was considering turning down the influence of using Keywords in domains. Like having keywords in your URL, Keywords in domains influenced the ranking of websites. But their influence and importance were downplayed. 

Matt downplays the ranking factor role and suggests that it only influences the user experience and marketing. 

2016: Google says that keywords contribute very little in terms of ranking

In January 2016, there was a Webmaster Central hangout where John Mueller acknowledged that having keywords in a URL was a ranking factor. He, however, minimized the importance of that as a ranking factor and said that its influence was very little. In the hangout, Mueller said that he believes that it is a very small ranking factor, and it isn't significant enough that he would force it. He also mentioned that he doesn't think it is worth the effort required in restructuring your URL just to fit in keywords.

He's calling it "very small" matches what Matt had been saying all along. It became clear that there were other more important areas of the site which would need attention thrown at URL keywords, which isn't very beneficial. 

2017: the effects of keywords in URL is overrated

Mueller went further in the explanation of how insignificant keywords in URL as a ranking factor is. In 2017, he referred to them as overrated. He explains that keywords in URLs are overrated when referring to Google SEO. URLs are designed to aid users. 

2018: do not bother about keywords in your SEO

In 2018, Mueller continued his gruesome assault on keywords in URL, clearly stating that it isn't a ranking factor. This time he went further and pointed out how users hardly even notice URL structures. Keywords in a URL may be a ranking factor but a minor one. Let's say it is only important in your URL so that you don't get penalized and not because it scores any points for ranking. 

Are keywords in URL links used as anchor texts?

This is another important question we get when dealing with this topic. There is an idea flying around that if someone links to another site with just the link, Google will use the URL keywords as anchor text. They believe that doing so helps the site rank better for that anchor text. This type of link is what we call a naked link. 

It got that name because it is a link in the form of a URL instead of being hidden in an anchor text. Yes, we know you don't understand here, but let's show you what we mean.

Bare URL:

URL in an anchor text:

Click here!

Oh yeah, that's what we mean. 

Mueller said that naked links do not pass any form of anchor text information. 

From what he understands, Google's systems attempt to recognize naked links, and then it categorizes it as just a URL that is linked. And not that there is any valuable anchor in the naked link. So Google knows that it is a link. However, they can't use the anchor for anything in particular. 

Does having keywords in a URL increase clicks from SERP?

This is another question that bothers many clients. There is an old SEO idea that suggests that using keywords in your URL will help stimulate a higher CTR from SERPs. While this may have been true in the past, it certainly isn't now. A better way to phrase that would be less true. Particularly for sites that use breadcrumb navigation or breadcrumb navigation structured data. Instead, Google uses the category name in the search result for sites that feature such sites. 

Frankly, the keywords in the URL are not visible. For sites that don't rely on breadcrumb navigation or structured data, Google displays the URLs with the keywords in them, but they aren't highlighted. Some believe that if Google were to highlight the URL keywords, it might help draw the eyes of users to the listing. But that isn't true. 

Is there any point in having keywords in the URL?

Besides its minor possible ranking factor significance, it also has other clear benefits of having keywords on your URL for site visitors. Having keywords in your URL can help users understand what the page is about. Even though the keywords do not always show up in SERP, they will appear when linked as a bare URL. 

When in doubt, we do optimize our client's URL structure for internet users because Google always recommends we do everything in our power to please the user. This tends to align with the types of webpages Google ranks highly. 

Our Secrete formula to creating the perfect URL structure

Standardizing the URL in Lowercase:

Most servers do not have difficulties understanding URLs in mixed cases; however, this tip influences what the URL looks like. Generally speaking, we are familiar with URLs in lower cases "example-dot-com" instead of "Example-Dot-Com." 

We use Hyphens, not underscores

We prefer using hyphens (-) and not underscores (_) because when published as a bare link, underscores are difficult to see. 

Using Accurate keywords in the category URL structure

One common mistake is using less relevant keywords as the category name. This mistake usually emanates from choosing the keyword receiving the most traffic. Sometimes, the highest traffic keyword isn't the core focus on the page in the category. 

Avoid using superfluous words in the URL structure

Sometimes a CMS will add the word or category to the URL structure. Doing so makes the URL structure undesirable. For example, there is no point in having / category / widget / when it should simply be a widget. Similarly, if there is an alternative that is better for telling users what to expect from a section of your site, then use that alternative. 


The topic of SEO friendly URL goes beyond what one may suspect. Best believe that comes with nuances. While Google decides not to show URLs in its SERP, other growing search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo still consider them worthy to appear on its SERP. It is a good thing to let potential visitors see your URL as it educates them on what the page is about. 

In the end, having a good URL structure can help improve your CTRs on whichever SERP your webpage appears. Keeping your URL short also contributes to making it more user friendly and easy to copy / share. Short URLs are shared more often, which increases the popularity of the page. 

The bottom line is your URL structure is important, and you should take good care of it.  

Nevertheless, if you need to learn more about the subject of SEO and website promotion, we invite you to visit our Semalt blog.

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